Lee Van Vechten, known to his colleagues as a telemarketing industry pioneer and a founder of the American Teleservices Association, died March 14 after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 67.
Van Vechten was among the first business-to-business telemarketing professionals and established his reputation through many publications, including the widely read early-1980s newsletter, the Van Vechten Report. His efforts in founding the ATA in 1983 helped define telemarketing as a distinct profession within the marketing business.
“It put some focus on what we needed to do as a group,” said John Crouthamel, chief operations officer at Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Prosodie Interactive. “Some folks called it the 'moment we came out of the closet,' and maybe it was.”
Crouthamel and other colleagues recalled Van Vechten as a man of dry wit and friendly competitiveness. Rudy Oetting, an industry pioneer in his own right, met Van Vechten in the 1970s and the two became friends despite being competitors.
Oetting said he and Van Vechten would occasionally refer business to each other. The two built their friendship partly on the common ground of their military service, Oetting in the Marines and Van Vechten with the Army's 3rd Armored Division.
“There was a camaraderie,” said Oetting, senior partner with Oetting & Company. “Those things, you can relate to with the guys who have been there.”
Van Vechten was one of the first telemarketing consultants, going into business on his own in 1977 as president of F.G.I. & Affiliated Companies. Prior to that, he spent 14 years in marketing at Dun & Bradstreet and also served as vice president of sales and marketing at AMR International and Arthur W. Weisenberger & Co.
Oetting and Van Vechten collaborated on some projects, and in one case Oetting recalled their amity getting them into trouble. While filming an informational piece on telephone marketing for a major corporation, joking between the two interrupted the shoot, prompting the director to yell that the film was costing their client a lot of money.
Many of those who came into contact with Van Vechten recalled his willingness to offer advice and hands-on information to his peers. Most recently, he wrote the books “The Successful Sales Manager's Guide to Selling Through Proactive Customer Service” in September 2002 and “The Successful Sales Manager's Guide to Business to Business Telephone Sales” in 1999.
Van Vechten also authored two self-training manuals, The CSR Hotline and The TSR Hotline. In addition, he contributed chapters to Prentice Hall's Encyclopedia of Telemarketing and Dartnell's Marketing Managers Handbook, and was a featured contributor of DM News.
“He was a real mentor to many people,” said Sandy Pernick, president of Pernick & Associates, Chicago. “He was kind of a renaissance man.”
Van Vechten was a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of the Penn State University College of Business Administration. He is survived by his wife, Tanya, and son, Derrick Lee.